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What Do People See in Montreal Bagels?

  • j

(This is a serious question and not intended to start acrimony...)

Visited a friend in Montreal recently and he took me for fresh bagels. I grew up in NYC area and those are the bagels (and bialy's) I'm used to and love.

A recent article sort of gave me an explanation of why I like NYC bagels so much: http://www.slate.com/id/2297583/ In short, part of it has to do with complexity of tastes you get through fermenting the dough in (old) wood containers.

No offense, but Montreal bagels seem the opposite. Leaving aside the texture (which may just be a matter of habit or perverse pride in getting muscle spasms from chewing a NYC bagel), there just seemed to be one note to the taste of the bagel--i.e., no real complexity.

I realize all the really special treats in my life seems to have the "complexity of flavors" idea in common (to pick a Montreal example--Swartz's smoked meat). Am i missing something with Montreal bagels or is it just a matter of different criteria?

(And clearly there are people in NYC who appreciate them, as there's a "Mile End" bakery in Brooklyn that imports them, and a new bakery nearby that started to make them fresh.)

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  1. It's all in the holes.

    1. I recently tried a St. Viateur bagel while up on Montreal. It doesn't take jaws of steel to chew it. And it's not humongous in size. And I thought it was tastier than a New York bagel. It's everything that's NOT a New York bagel. I always said I was the only New Yorker who disliked NY bagels. (Oh, and, uh...ketchup on my hot dogs too.)

      6 Replies
      1. re: nooyawka

        Which bagel store in Montreal did you try?

        1. re: ios94

          Had it at Chez Cora. They told me they get theirs from St. Viateur.

          1. re: nooyawka

            Well, there's your problem. I, too, find St. Viateur bagels to be pretty bad if more than 30 minutes has elapsed between baking and consumption. Anyone who raves about Montreal bagels is raving about the fact that one can show up at the bagel shop at 3:30am on a Tuesday and get a bagel thats straight out of the wood-fired oven. I agree that once cooled (and especially if served at room temperature), the best NYC bagels beat the best Montreal bagels.

            Come back again soon and go straight to the source (even Fairmont Bagels would be better than your last experience). Before the bagel is even cool enough to touch it has to be attached to cream cheese and shoved in your mouth. If that doesn't do it, you're a lost cause... ; )

            1. re: nooyawka

              Not to mention that you got one at Chez Cora!! It was probably 6 days old!

              1. re: Fintastic

                But he said he liked it. Why are you putting him on trial?

                1. re: SnackHappy

                  Oops! sorry! my bad. I got the names of the OP and nooyawka confused. Apologies all around..

        2. I have difficulty in understanding your kvetch. I admit I have never eaten a NY bagel, but my experience with Toronto bagels (yecch) makes me wonder if perhaps NY bagels come from the same home (plastic, fluffy, no texture, sweet for toast bagels). I love a bagel that makes me stand up and say yes I have teeth and indeed I find complexity in a Montreal bagel. So, to each her own.

          1. It's very chewy, and substantial. You know you are eating a Montreal bagel when you're chewing one.

            Then there's the taste. Between the honey (or syrup) water, and the wood-fired oven, and the poppy or sesame seeds, the bagel takes on an ephemeral like flavor that is sweet and savory at the same time. And if you pay attention, I swear you can actually taste umami.

            And the best thing about them? You need to smear anything on them to make them taste great. They are fabulous just on their own. Just like a beautiful woman. She doesn't need make-up to look beautiful. She just is.

            7 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              I would agree with the chewy and substantial. Not sure about the other stuff.

              I loved St Viatur bagels, Fairmont not so much but we're talking over 20 years ago. Never had NY bagels so can't compare. Calgary bagels are more like bread shaped like a donut, not even remotely the same.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Curse you! Now i really want a bagel.

                  Any good bagels sold downtown, so i can dash out on my 3pm craving break??

                  1. re: SourberryLily

                    Not that I know of.

                    I would gladly whip out my passport for a trip for Montreal if it wasn't for this pesky thing called a job.

                    Where do you get your bales SourberryLily? I've only been to St Viateur and Fairmount.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I am not religious about my bagel shops, i have a selection of places that i like all equally:
                      St-Viateur, Fairmount, Baubien or Mont-Royal Bagel.

                      I am partial to Mount-Royal Bagel Factory since they are close to where i live and have this absolutely divine cream cheese (i think it said imported from jerusalem, and then they mix their own seasonning in it). I like their bagel boards and their poppy seed bagel.

                    2. re: SourberryLily

                      Real Bagel on Ste-Catherine near Greene, maybe? Not exactly downtown I guess, but it's the closest decent bagel I can think of.

                      Real Bagel
                      4160 Rue Sainte-Catherine W, Westmount, QC H3Z1P4, CA

                      1. re: mainsqueeze

                        Shoot, i'm close to Place des Arts at the other far end of downtown

                  2. It is quite hard to compare both products, they have to be eaten in the 2, 3 hours hours after they were baked; after that (even a day+ after) toasting them will revive them but will offer a different taste profile (gasp, I sound like a cheesy top chef judge).

                    In my opinion, the difference is the size of the bagel, here, as far as I know the bagel is small, the hole bigger and it makes for a good ratio between crust and inside.

                    When you tear the bagel apart it will open at the seam of the circle; not randomly like a normal bread.

                    Also, a Montreal bagel is _not_ a sandwich bagel, the hole is just too big.

                    anyway ... the best bagels are from montreal and in particular because I can walk 2 minutes from home to get some fresh and hot at 7 in the morning every morning of the year ...


                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Maximilien

                      you overuse the word taste. you mean flavour profile. montreal bagels are still great 1,2,3 days after purchase. the reason why they taste different after 3 hours is because they start dehydrating. i personally think a day old montreal bagel, toasted with some cream cheese and smoked salmon is heaven.

                      ALL breads tastes different after a day or two - why are we talking as if this is a unique feature of bagels. ie: toasted day/2day old challah bread is great even if fresh is the best.

                      to the person who suggested that new york bagels are like toronto bagels - not even close. new york bagels are absolutely amazing and worth bringing home as many as you can

                      1. re: celfie

                        Its an emotional thing, a tradition here! I ask for the hot ones, although with turnover most are hot, but not always so best to ask to get the ones which just came out of oven. We eat them right away and the leftover ones do get stale fast so get toasted and are still ok plain or with butter or spreads/cheese. I dont think it is a question of which are better but having 24 hour access to fresh bagels is a plus and easy to get to these places just off of parc. The next day they are only half as good and if you dont freeze them by third day are tough! We prefer to get smaller quantities because of this and just go back when bagel craving arrives. I would never order bagels in other cities as not really a bagel fan but will head to st viateur periodically for late night bagel -its a habit , bagels are comfort food and generally are on the agenda when friends and family return to Montreal..

                        1. re: wilmagrace

                          i dislike the condensation that forms on hot bagels inside of a paper bag. the water completely ruins them. I will only get a hot bagel if it is for the walk home. Otherwise, hour old bagels in paper are the best bet. I also dislike storing them in plastic so I never buy more than I can eat before they fossilize on my kitchen counter.

                          1. re: celfie

                            I agree about the condensation thing. It's sort of equivalent to putting them in the microwave.

                            1. re: celfie

                              I know of some people who bring mesh bags, the type you get onions in, to collect their fresh bagels. After the heat dissipates they can be transferred to whatever bag you wish.

                              1. re: davekry

                                I presume they don't buy sesame and drive a car cause that's pretty much Hansel & Gretel territory.

                      2. I love Montreal bagels. Like the texture, taste & size better.

                        1. Just the fact that we have never heard the term 'hollowed-out bagel' speaks volumes about our bagels...when an American goes on a diet you can hear them order a sandwich and say please hollow out the bagel....if we did that we would eat our fingers. Not to mention when Montrealers want to shed pounds we go to a gym and practice portion control.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: blondee_47

                            Errr, lets not open the door on the USA vs Montrealer dietary or health subject.

                            But honestly, what is a "hollowed-out bagel"?

                            1. re: SourberryLily

                              To channel my grandmother, I think hollowing out a bagel is a goyisha practice of scooping out the bread from the crust to make room for whatever crap people put on bagels these days....

                              1. re: jon44

                                no john actually I heard it in the reverse order but I think it is universally done; usually at Jewish deli's or lunch places where u can get a sandwich

                                1. re: blondee_47

                                  What is the opposite scooping out the bread from the crust?

                              2. re: SourberryLily

                                But honestly, what is a "hollowed-out bagel"?

                                Scoop out the doughy bread center of the bagel after you've sliced it in half.

                                Some reasons for doing so? To make it easier to make a sandwich (e.g. hold the fillings), or if you're an Atkins fan, to be low-carb.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Then what's the point? just get a pita!

                                  This baffles me.

                                  1. re: SourberryLily

                                    I think the fillings stay in better if it's hollowed out. We're talking a bagel sandwich that has a bunch of stuff in it, not just cream cheese. Plus I think some people like the chewier outside and dislike the fluffy inside.

                                    1. re: mainsqueeze

                                      l am definitely not the 'fluffy' center kind of guy, and anything but goyishe. For me all about chew on the crust.

                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                        Considering that a New York bagel is roughly the same as 6 slices of bread, diet conscious New Yorkers ask for the bagel to be scooped out....

                            2. As l have lived both in Manhattan and Montreal for a little while and regretfully am old enough to remember fabulous bagels in Philadelphia while growing up, maybe l can compare them. St. Viateur right out of the oven is a lovely thing, but not the bagels l remember growing up. It does have chew and again quite pleasing but not the bagel that pulls your teeth out. In NY for a while everyone was doing the H & H bagel which in my mind has nothing to do with a bagel. They were huge pieces of bread, doughy, dense and boring as hell. More recently in Manhattan have been pleased with Bagel & Co on York and various Tal locations, many others as well, but not quite there, and yes l am a bagel center scooper. Finally for me bagel nirvana has been reached. whoever invented the flagle, or flattened bagel, should get a Nobel prize. They are perfect, again for me. All crust, chewy enough to remove questionable teeth, and because they are flat they can be the size of a salad plate but not doughy. OK l have vented and it felt good.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                Delucasheesemonger, I figured you for a traditionalist, but bagel scooping? Don't you get eye-rolls in NYC for doing that? Unless, of course, you're on the hoity-toity Upper East Side and you're a low-carbist or trying to keep a size 2? And I have yet to try a flagle. Sounds more like my speed. Where can I get a good representative flagle?

                                1. re: nooyawka

                                  Tal has them as well as Bagel & C on York at 75th or so. Most good places have them, get the sesame.

                              2. I live in NYC & I had St. Viateur bagels on my last trip - I can't say I cared for them too much. I think it's simply what you grew up w/ and/or personal preference.

                                1. I live on Montreal's West Island (often dubbed the Waste Island) and I can honestly say that Montreal bagels are both amazing, and over rated. I've made the drive to both Fairmount and St. Viateur, and while the bagels are terrific, they're really only worth the trek if you live close by.

                                  There are other, less notable bagel shops around the city that don't get anywhere near the attention due to the legend that has built up around the two aforementioned joints, but are every bit as good, and possibly better.

                                  One standout is Bagel de l'Ouest on blvd des Sources (Sources blvd for my anglo bretheren). Absolutely spectacular bagels, served up with a delightfully surly attitude for the complete Montreal bagel-buying experience. There's a je ne sais quoi about buying bagels from somebody who gives off the aura that they'd rather be anywhere but serving you at the moment.

                                  New York style bagels have their own special delight - being larger, thicker, breadier and more tender (from exterior to interior), and they have their place. But to shut out Montreal bagels, no matter who, except the most inept, makes them, is to dismiss a delightful entity in its own right.

                                  Strangely, if you live in Montreal (or anywhere in Canada, for that matter) if you drive into any of the ubiquitous Tim Horton's franchises and ask for a bagel and cream cheese, they will give you a close approximation of a NY bagel.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Haggisboy

                                    To say a T Horton's bagel has anything to do with a traditional NY bagel is so wrong on so many levels, so wrong.

                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                      Agreed, but it's definitely an American style bagel. That's not unlike what you find at most grocery stores or Whole Foods in the States. Even the New York "style" delis in Miami will serve you something akin to that.

                                      I personally love New York style bagels; there's nothing like 'em anywhere else!

                                      BUT I'll take a half dozen mixed sesame/poppy bag fresh-from-the-oven at St-Viateur over them any day! It's really all about what you grew up with in this case. I don't think one is definitvely better than the other.

                                      1. re: OliverB

                                        A true, fresh NYC bagel of excellent quality has little in common with "American-style" or even "New York-style" bagels. But that's a given, right?

                                  2. They just taste do gosh darn yummy!! But I've never had a bagel in NY so I can't compare.

                                    1. Interesting responses, all. As extra clarification, wasn't looking for why one style is better or the other, but maybe a better way to put it is why is a St-Viateur bagel, fresh from the chute any better than a reasonably high-quality dinner roll? (that's what it tasted like to me.)

                                      I tasted it right after having a sandwich at Schwartz's, then some roasted nuts from some place not too far from St. Viateur and the bagel just didn't fit in with the rich, complex tastes of the other two montreal treats. An unhygenic NY bagel would have....

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: jon44

                                        Maybe all the rich food dulled your tastebuds and so you couldn't taste the subtleties? The slight sweetness is a big part of the appeal. Sort of the same reason you would never start a cheese tasting with a Stilton; the Brie would seem pretty bland.

                                        1. re: CanadaGirl

                                          chances are that people like them because that's what we have here

                                          1. re: celfie

                                            I'm in Halifax. I can't get them fresh very often but think even the frozen St. Viateur I can get here are way better than any other option available to me.

                                          2. re: CanadaGirl

                                            Great point that didn't occur to me (and makes a lot of sense, as it took my body about 2 days to digest the Schwartz's sandwiches I had.)

                                        2. The flavor of sesame and the crunchy texture of the exterior juxtaposed with the chewy interior is just heaven. The size is also a big factor; I like them a bit smaller so I can eat a bagel or two and not feel that I am going to explode. Having grown up outside of Montreal, I never really enjoyed a bagel until I lived here. Now, I can never go back to the doughy bloated bagels that the rest of the world seems to know. Although, I am not a bagel purist as I prefer Mtl bagels toasted instead of fresh form the oven. Nobodies perfect.

                                          7 Replies
                                            1. re: wilmagrace

                                              The bagel they chose to represent NYC looks like "goyisha" incarnate...

                                              1. re: wilmagrace

                                                NYC bagel just looks like a pile of unadorned bread. I've never had one (I don't think), but from this pic I can't see the appeal. It's like the plainest of plain grocery store bagels in Calgary.

                                                1. re: Shattered

                                                  that's the worst looking nyc bagel. new york bagels are divine.

                                                  even the place in JFK is decent and I grab a dozen on stop overs

                                                    1. re: OliverB

                                                      i love a nyc bagel with new victoria smoked salmon

                                                      1. re: OliverB

                                                        I'm sure they are good to taste... but i have to agree with Shattered. Even seeing OliverB's pics, they just look like regular bagels with a lot of sesame stuck on it (first pic).

                                                        I'll have to try one next time i'm in NYC.

                                              2. Having lived in both NY and Montreal, I can't grasp how people could possibly prefer a NY bagel. NY pastrami, I get. NY pizza, hands down. But NY bagels... nothing but a roll with a hole.

                                                As for Montreal bagels, in addition to Fairmount and St. Viateur, I enjoy Real Bagel. Also, I was very pleasantly surprised by this new little bagel shop (didn't get the name) on Caldwell Street in Cote Saint-Luc singlehandedly run by this young orthodox Jewish guy. His bagels are bang on, and he sells some great shmears to go with.

                                                Real Bagel
                                                4160 Rue Sainte-Catherine W, Westmount, QC H3Z1P4, CA